Bookshelves are currently filled with 100s of books written about diet, exercise programs, and nutrition. Turning on the television to any sporting event, we see athletes who represent the epitome of muscle and conditioning vision. While these athletes may monitor their dietary intake and are exceptionally active in their exercise regime, the concept behind their discipline is far from modern. In ancient times, Greek and Roman athletes were celebrities in their own right, a status achieved with proper diet and frequent preparation for battle.
Girolamo (Hieronymi) Mercurialis was a professor of medicine at Bologna and Pisa. He was a strong advocate for benefits of exercise to maintain good health. Having studied the classical and medical literature of the Greek and Roman attitudes toward diet, exercise, and the use of natural methods for the cure of disease, De Arte Gymnastica was first published in 1569. Mercurialis describes ancient gymnasia and baths and discusses mild exercises such as dancing as well as more strenuous pursuits such as wrestling and boxing. He also gives full consideration to the health benefits of proper exercise and concludes the book with a section of therapeutic exercises. With its explanations concerning the principles of physical therapy, it is considered the first book on sports medicine.
Later editions contained twenty-four woodcuts by Cristofero Coriolano and also features a number of large fold out engravings illustrating elaborate views of ancient contests, games and activities. Roman gladiator fights are depicted with all of the intensity one would imagine, along with a casualty being removed by strecher bearers. Another engraving shows a mock naval battle at the Coliseum in Verona, Italy with spectators looking on.
The Ebling Library Copy (WZ 250 M557DA 1672)
Our copy of De Arte Gymnastica came to us from the Sotheby's Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh sale. Bound in calf leather, this edition's cover is separated from the body with possible owner's initials with the date 1762 in ink on the upper right coner. Several front pages are missing, however, still intact are the frontispiece and title pages. Foxing occurs throughout the book.
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